Head to Head: Sephardi vs. Ashkenazi Pesach!

8 years ago Archive 0

Kitniyot, charoset, silan, haggadahs, etc. it can all be very overwhelming! At first glance there are quite a few glaring differences between an Ashkenazi, and Sephardi Seder, but if we really dig deep you’ll notice that the two aren’t that far off from each other.

Let’s start with arguably the one of the most important parts of Jewish life: Food! During the entire duration of Pesach, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews refrain from eating any sort of chametz. However, Sephardi Jews eat Kitniyot, while Ashkenazim do not.

Now let’s break down these big fancy words before we continue any further. Chametz is a food product made from wheat, barley, oats, spelt or their derivatives, which has leavened i.e. bread, cake, pretzels, oatmeal etc. Kitniyot are rice, legumes, corn, or millet. Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of refraining from eating Kitniyot on Pesach, however the obligation to sell the Kitniyot as one must with Chametz does not apply.

If you attend an Ashkenazi Seder, you should expect to not spot any Kitniyot in sight. However, at a Sephardi Seder, rice, beans, corn etc., are fair game. If you are Sephardi, however bear in mind that not all Sephardi Jews eat Kitniyot, or all forms for that matter. For example, my family is from Iraq, and we eat rice, as well as legumes during Pesach (BH!), yet refrain from eating corn.

If you’re Ashkenazi I’m sure you can’t imagine a Pesach Seder without Charoset, however I can’t imagine a Pesach Seder with it. Most Middle Eastern Jews eat Silan (a date syrup instead of Charsoet). The two serve the same purpose; symbolizing the mortar the Jewish people used to make bricks as slaves in Egypt, just taste different. Apples aren’t exactly indigenous to the Middle East, so Sephardi Jews use dates instead (and it’s insanely delicious,), doesn’t look the prettiest… but delicious!

Even a Haggadah can vary between homes. While the story doesn’t change, the language it’s written in might. An Ashkenazi home very well might have a Haggadah written in Yiddish, while at my home parts of our Hagaddahs are written in Arabic. This of course applies to all types of Jews, and there are Haggadahs written in Spanish, Chinese etc.

Disclaimer: this next custom may horrify some…and probably intrigue others. During the recitation of Dayenu many Sephardi Jews have the custom of banging their family members on the head with thick scallions. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt, but certainly does help release some pent up aggression you surely have for your brothers and sisters (of course not that I feel that way…)

Another major difference is that many Sephardi Jews do not recite a bracha over the second, and fourth cups of wine.

While there certainly are substantial differences between a Sephardi, and Ashkenazi Seder, the story remains the same. We both celebrate the holiday to thank Hashem for letting us out of slavery, and into the Promised Land. We both derive from the same tribe, and we both wish to be rejoicing in Yerushalayim next year!

pesach seder plate